Photographer Boris Mikhalevkin belongs to the Sixtiers. Best features of this, unfortunately, already sparse generation are its positive approach to life and the ability to use life experience gained in the country of gigantic social experiment, for the search of fundamental values. In his short two-page biography Mikhalevkin comments: “I try to be kind to people, those that I live with, those that I photograph”… “Man is talented,” – he follows, – “but is too lazy to find out what his talent is”. This does not apply to Mikhalevkin himself. He had grown into a significant photographer just like some become significant film directors. At little over thirty, having been around for a while. After having spent part of his childhood in the besieged Leningrad, after having taken part as a musician in the 1957 Youth Festival so symbolic to the Khrushev Thaw, and having toured the Soviet Union with the band. Noticeably, Mikhalevkin, first self taught guitarist and then professional musician, first became interested in music by the concerts directed by Eugeniy Mravinsky in the Leningrad Philharmonic Hall. The Sixtiers mixed such different interests easy and naturally. Nowadays, culture has lost its universal meaning, split into the ‘parallel culture’ ‘counter culture’ etc.

As political climate in the country improved, Mikhalevkin became able to choose between the vagrant life of Anatoly Badkhen Band musician and painstaking set-up of programmable machines. His choice was… black and white photography.

Central to Mikhalevkin’s photographs is his authorial tone free of any pomp or preaching. This seems to be characteristic for the Sixtiers, particularly, for the best songs of the time. Think of Yuri Vizbor’s “Easy, my friend, easy, shall we drink and sing merrily. There are still wars to come that you must try to survive.” It is this intonation that creates a special and different impression of Mikhalevkin’s work, different with each viewer. To me, his best works are “Exercise”(1981) and “Their First Morning” (1987). First one combines young dancers at an improvised ballet bar with the prose of a village house and the old woman mocking a strict Vaganova School tutor. The other shows piles of dishes just washed after a wedding table, metaphoric of the pure life ahead of the young couple sitting in the background with their hands on their lap as if after an important work had been done. Indeed, they only have started, they “must try to survive”.

The new exhibition of Boris Mikhalevkin’s work at the State Centre of Photography coinciding with his 80-th anniversary, shows pictures little or not known to the audience, selected by the author himself from his large archive.

These images can be easily divided into series – family, landscapes of Tver, Western capitals… But this would be a false approach to analyze Mikhalevkin’s photography. For the master, story is only the cause to build up metaphors and associations. His “Ariadna’s Thread”, shows the texture of many entwined meters of ship rope taking up the whole space of the image and denuding one of the hope that this thread would save Theseus from cruel Minotaur. “Vysochansky Mine” depicts miners at tea time, under a newspaper portrait of Vladimir Vysotsky. Vysotsky’s picture hanging on bare rock reminds of icons in early Christians’ caves.

In the “Landscape With a Horse” the animal, unexpectedly, plays a small part, despite of the perfect visual balance of the tree, horse and the building. The main character of the scene is the old rickety shed. It is empty, with the rectangles of doorways making a black frame for the river bank in the background, which outside of the barn looks very different than inside it.

“The Stubborn One” – Muikhalevkin’s titles are always expressive and precise – is a portrait of an untamed blonde leaning against an old wall of “wise”, dried-out logs, such background making her look even more stubborn. The “Lunatic”, possibly a detail of a mechanism, lies on the border of wet and dry asphalt, reminds of Juan Miro’s paintings. As Mikhalevkin is interested in fine arts, he is most likely familiar with the Catalonian artist’s motifs. “Jazz” is photographed with long exposure allowing to combine in one picture images of several trumpetists blowing the shining brass. Another reminiscence of the photographer’s musical past is “The Last Call”. It was a tradition in the Philharmonic Hall, for most famous conductors to come out for last call, already after the band has left the stage. The photographer keeps good memory of that irretrievable time.

Looking at Mikhalevkin’s photographs does not make one want to search for exact dates. Stove-setters, plowmen, lovers of Madeira, billiard players, all of them still exist now, just like they did fifty years ago. And so is “boredom” everlasting for someone looking through the window so long that onions have sprang on the windowsill.

There’s only one picture that requires a date to it. Festive greetings for the New Year of 1964 painted on a cracked window pane by an awkward hand. In order to fit in the Sputnik and fir-tree, the author had to split the word “Year” leaving its first letter apart from the rest. In Russian language, such change unexpectedly alters the meaning of the image.

New time has come and opened the borders. Mikhalevkin photographs the West, in his usual manner, without any tinsel. Pavements in Rome, smoothed by the numerous feet, can tell more about the Eternal City than hundreds of images of Coliseum. In Venice, he makes a full length portrait of a Russian. The image of himself is barely noticeable, just a reflection in a bright gift shop mirror. The irony is clear here: we had spent too much time behind the iron curtain to understand their life quickly.

In 2003, Mikhalevkin photographed St.-Quentin market through the window of a modest hotel near Gar de l’Ouest. His camera captured part of a narrow street and glass panes reflecting sidewalk with people strolling along. The picture is titled “Paris. Weekdays”. Three years later, I stayed in the neighboring room with a similar view of the market. My photograph had no reflections in it. Or could it be for the dull weather?

Vadim Mikhailov

Personal exhibitions:
1966 – Morphispribor research institute, Leningrad
1967 – Jazz festival, Leningrad, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia
1969 – Hiitola, Kurkijoki, Karelia
1971 – Morphispribor research institute, Leningrad
1975 – Hiitola, Kurkijoki, Karelia
1978 – Molodezhni cinema, Leningrad
1980 – Syktyvkar, Soviet Republic of Komi
1983 – Barnaul
1984 —Kiev, Ukraine
1984 —Daugavpils, Latvia
1985 – Syktyvkar, Soviet Republic of Komi
1986 —Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
1986 – Vladivostok
1987 – Murmansk
1988 – Leningrad
1990 – Leningrad
1993 – Perm
1993 —Bratislava, Slovakia
1994 – Pushkin Museum, St.-Petersburg
1994 – National Museum, Cheboksary
1999 – Morphispribor, company’s anniversary, St.-Petersburg
2000 – National Centre of Contemporary Art, St.-Petersburg branch

Collections:

1978 – Museum of Photography, Bievre, France
1979 – Museum of Photography, Shaulai, Lithuania
1992 – Navigator Social Fund Museum, Boston, USA
1993 – Fine Arts Museum, New Mexico, USA
1995 – Vatican Museum
1996 – Private Collections Museum, Moscow
1998 – Zimmerli Art Museum, Norton and Nancy Dodge Gallery, Rutgers, National University of New Jersey, USA
1999 – Ntaional Museum of City History, St.-Petersburg
2000 – National Museum of Political History of Russia, St.-Petersburg

Publications: magazines and books:

1971 – Photography magazine, Poland
1984 – Photography magazine, Bulgaria
1989 – Photorevue 89 yearbook, Russia
1993 – Month of Photography yearbook, Slovakia
1994 – RAFO press photography agency, France
1994 – Russia in Photography for the last 100 years, published by Endeavour, UK
2000 – Optimism of the Sixties, Russia
2000-2001 – Life and Dreams, South Corea